very few people remembered the dance couple. Interest was weak, so
Guy rewrote his screenplay into a theater piece.
When that happened – just a few years ago – it was an
opportunity to look at it as a ballet.
It was difficult, however, to interest a ballet company because the
show featured a narrator, Auggie, a boyhood friend of Frank Veloz.
But Guy believed the play needed a narrator and refused to budge on
Fortunately, the show’s ultimate director-choreographer, William
Soleau, had already done something similar with State Street Ballet in
a show about Vincent Van Gogh called
Starry, Starry Night,
Barbara that featured the artist’s brother Theo as a narrator.
“Soleau was willing to bend the rules [of ballet] a little,” says Guy,
“he was not a purist.”
An American Tango
is certainly not “pure” ballet. It has ballroom
dancing, some ballet, and the added attraction of Ziegfeld chorus girls
and real-life gangsters, making it a curious amalgam indeed.
With all that, we wondered, how
ballet company could say ‘no’
to this twenty-three-year project of his?
“Actually, I don’t know how they could say ‘no’ to my motion
picture,” Guy says with a laugh.
“It was such a colorful period,” he continues. “There was such a
confluence of gangsters and show people, all within a few blocks of each
other (in Manhattan).”
Finding A Home
Michael first contacted State Street Ballet in 2009. They’d had a
couple of opportunities with other ballet companies, but “Dialogue? You
can’t have that with a ballet!” was a common response. “We thought we’d
violated some sacred system,” Michael jokes.
Through a friend, Michael began to research West Coast ballet
companies and State Street came up as a smaller, imaginative, and
innovative young company. He made what he calls “a flat-out cold call.”
The first person he spoke to was Ana Zaferris, who has since passed
away. “I asked her what her company’s policy was with respect to new
material. She was very nice and from there it just kind of coalesced,”
Michael recalls with fondness.
During the Depression, many of the nightclubs and theaters in all the major cities
in the U.S. were owned and/or run by gangsters; (on the right is a closeup of some
of the elaborate dresses Yolanda wore for the couple’s act, all designed by her
husband and dance partner, Frank).